Safeguarding Against Pranksters in K–12 Virtual Classrooms

During this unprecedented time, K–12 private schools are demonstrating their remarkable resilience by making the transition to distance learning in what seems like the blink of an eye. Schools utilizing video conferencing tools such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom are encountering another eye-opening challenge—unwanted visitors in those class sessions.

Schools aren’t alone in this issue, “Zoom bombing” is a disruptive trend for many organizations conducting online gatherings, and it is leading to copy-cat behavior in virtual classrooms. Several members of Blackbaud K–12’s Advisory Board have experienced these issues at their schools, most of which likely stemmed from kids outside of the school gaining access to classroom links.

The first-thought solution is to password-protect the meetings, but that won’t prevent outside access if the pranksters have friends within the school who are supplying them with the course info. Fortunately, there are ways to curb this behavior. Zoom has published a helpful video showing how to prevent meeting crashers on their platform, and our K–12 Advisory Board has collaborated on the following advice. 

1. Consider an enterprise conferencing license.

Google, Microsoft, and Zoom have admirably offered schools free access to their video conferencing tools temporarily, but take a close look at the feature comparison between the free service and the enterprise license as your school may need a paid version to gain the necessary security features.

2. Reiterate expectations for proper behavior.

This can be a stressful time for adolescents, and it’s expected that some will act out as they process what’s happening. Now is a good time for schools to emphasize their behavior and honor codes in distance learning plans. Also, make it clear that sharing meeting links with people who aren’t in the class is unacceptable.

3. Keep meeting links secure.

Educate teachers on the potential issue to keep them from sharing meeting links on social media, public websites, or email because the message is easily forwarded. Instead, publish meeting links in the school’s LMS or internal community behind a login.

4. Restrict access to meetings.

One reason to consider the enterprise license is that you can then restrict meeting access to people within the organization. In lieu of this, devise a workaround policy. For example, one advisor’s school is requiring students to use their actual name when entering the waiting room and the meeting so the teacher can identify them. 

5. Test lock-out features.

Before enabling the meeting’s lock-out features to prevent participants from rejoining after getting kicked out, test it out to make sure it doesn’t restrict students who voluntarily left the meeting room or dropped out due to a poor internet connection from rejoining.

6. Set restrictions.

Comb through the settings to restrict participants from sharing their screens, video, or unmuting themselves without the host’s permission. Also, set chat permissions so that students can only have side conversations with the teacher. If possible with your school’s service plan, consider locking down these settings at the administrative level so that teachers don’t have to worry about whether they’ve set up their meetings correctly. A consistent configuration across all classes also makes it easier for peer-to-peer technical support amongst teachers.

7. Check-in on teachers.

Transitioning to virtual classrooms can also be stressful for teachers, especially those unfamiliar with online conferencing tools. Check-in with them to make sure they’re familiar with the functionality that controls the in-meeting experience, provide help documentation, and give them a virtual pat on the back. While you’re at it, thank them for us, too!

8. Look into IP blocking.

In a situation where an unknown participant continuously tries to disrupt classes, the ideal solution is to block their IP address. Contact your video conferencing service provider to see if this is possible. It may not be a feature that’s available, but they’ll appreciate the use case feedback and may be able to work it into a future release.

If you have other suggestions for curbing mischief in virtual classes, please consider sharing them in our COVID-19 community forum.